A gunman opened fire at the Terminal 21 shopping center in Nakhon Ratchasima in central Thailand Feb. 9, killing 29 people and injuring over 50 others. Just 10 days later, in a small city just east of Frankfurt, Germany, a gunman entered a hookah bar and murdered eight people in what has been deemed a far-right terrorist attack. A little more than a week apart, two heinous acts of violence shaking two different communities in two vastly different parts of the world have one chilling commonality: they are both consequences of the U.S.’s global exportation of violence.
Anyone who has grown up in the U.S., or at least keeps up to date with news coming out of the country, knows that America has a mass shooting problem. Recent shootings such as the one that occurred in El Paso, Texas, in August 2019, which was followed by a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, on the same day, represent an ongoing cycle of violence in the U.S., one that is exacerbated by the lack of any new gun control legislation on the federal level. However, the motives for these acts of violence and others like it around the world go beyond the government’s failure to value the lives of its citizens over profit.
The most sinister part of American mass shootings is that they transcend their effects domestically and represent a culture of intolerance and violence that has now permeated even the most peaceful of nations.
In March 2019, one of the most peaceful countries in the world was hit by a mass shooting. The mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand resulted in the death of 51 people, the majority of whom were killed in a mosque. A 74-page manifesto posted online by the shooter expressed immense Islamaphobic beliefs and made clear his desire to make the event as visible as possible. The shooter even stated he chose to carry out the attack with firearms for the increased media exposure, with hopes of affecting U.S. politics. He thought if the U.S. took notice, the world would as well. In the eyes of the rest of the world, gun violence is now so ingrained into the American experience that shootings can become a means to draw attention from the U.S.
These acts of gun violence are increasingly coming to define the U.S.’s reputation — a fact exacerbated by the federal government’s failure to pass any meaningful gun control legislation. From New Zealand to Thailand, the American problem of gun violence is being exported across the world with dire consequences. Hateful ideology, while not unique to the U.S., is helping fuel this new wave of global gun violence, underpinning many of the aforementioned shootings.
The U.S.’s role in diffusing hateful ideologies cannot be denied. From the words of President Donald Trump regarding immigrants to the rise of hate crimes in recent years, the U.S. has helped to normalize — not combat — global xenophobia and racism. People across the world look up to the U.S. and our example. What’s more heartbreaking is that for many across the world, the U.S. still represents a cultural powerhouse, with billions around the world looking to learn from and emulate everything from our music to our television to our standard of living.
The increased association of mass shootings with the American experience undermines our image globally and spreads the worst aspects of the U.S. abroad. For many people, including my family who immigrated here from the Philippines and Iran, the U.S. is still a land of opportunity and freedom, even if those concepts are more idealistic than realistic. To see such hatred against immigrants and those of different faiths, especially Muslims and Jews, motivate mass shootings is disheartening to those that imagined a better life in the U.S. And to see those instances of hatred fuel acts of violence in other countries is heartbreaking to those that still see the U.S. for what we thought it was: a land where all are equal and free from fear.
Whether or not the U.S. ever delivered on these promises is not for me to declare, but what is certain is this: the U.S. has a duty to fight back against the hatred and violence it is coming to represent. Far-right extremism has taken the lives of one too many, recently and throughout Western history. Those in power need to remember that every failed piece of legislation on gun control, every insufferable word that comes out of their mouth, is not only a betrayal of victims of violence but of those that are still proud to have earned the title of being American. If America continues to export its culture of violence, then it should at least know that it is not only its citizens who will suffer.
Aerex Narvasa is a sophomore Diplomacy & World Affairs (DWA) major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.